Educational workshop explores introversion, leadership

Before attending my first Geneseo Opportunities for Leadership Development program on Monday Oct. 19, I felt that these workshops seemed a bit trite—the last thing I needed was some lame pep talk about leadership or community.

I put my cynicism aside, however, and was intrigued by the workshop name: “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”—the title coming from a novel by lecturer Susan Cain.

I identify as an introvert and found myself excited at the prospect of attending something that talked about introversion in a positive light. I was thrilled when the workshop leader senior Meghan Barrett addressed the subject of introversion in an insightful, informative and compelling manner.

Barrett—a self-identified introvert—started the workshop with a personal introduction, explaining that she created the workshop after joining Alpha Delta Epsilon. Barrett worked through her sense of intimidation in order to improve her leadership skills in a manner conducive to introverts.

“Sororities are typically for extroverted people, we think,” she said. “I was kind of terrified because I’m not an extroverted person by nature and I was afraid that my voice would never be heard in my organization.” Barrett is now the president of ADE and attributes much of her strengthened ability to communicate successfully with both introverts and extroverts to Cain’s book.

The first topic that Barrett addressed was the question, “What is an introvert?” Much to my delight, Barrett immediately dispelled the most common misconception about introverts. “The most important thing to understand is that someone being introverted doesn’t mean that they’re shy.” Rather, Barrett explained that introversion and extroversion refer to a person’s response to stimuli. She added that approximately one in three individuals identify as introverts, including famous individuals like J.K. Rowling and Theodor Seuss Geisel—known by most as Dr. Seuss.

“It’s all about how easily you become over-stimulated,” she said. Barrett cited examples of an extroverted person being more likely to “recharge” by putting themselves in a large social environment with lots of external stimulation, whereas introverts typically find more solace with smaller, quieter settings. She added that introverts like to have the time to think and process things on their own more, making it harder for them than extroverts to respond well in high pressure settings such as in debates.

Barrett’s next topic was exploring the biological element behind introversion, mentioning a study done with 500 babies exposed to bright, loud stimuli and their measured finger temperature, heart rate and blood pressure. The findings showed that the children who reacted more negatively to the stimuli typically exhibited more introverted traits. “There are some genetics behind people that are more likely to be introverts,” Barrett said.

Barrett led a brief game in which the 26 students in attendance guessed which traits were more commonly associated with introverts or extroverts. She then turned the focus to leadership. “Everybody can display good leadership qualities,” she said.

She addressed the “extroverted ideal” society has created, which tends to favor those more openly outgoing. In this, she explained that the media’s increasing admiration for people is based on their appearances, dynamism and charisma. In addition, Barrett explained that the “socializing of [students by] working in teams” as a crucial indicator of a successful individual is quite stifling to introverts who may prefer to work on their own, where they come up with their best ideas. “There’s a lot of pushback against people who are introverted in society,” she said. “People who are introverted are viewed as having a second-class personality trait.”

Barrett spoke about the importance of diversifying approaches to leadership and striving for a mutual respect and understanding between extroverts and introverts regarding effective collaboration. For example, she explained that introverts are better at taking suggestions, giving others morale boosts and using social media—things that allow them to “step back from the pressure and stimulation” and take time to work on their own. In contrast, extroverts excel more with enacting quick initiatives and “pulling together and synthesizing ideas.”

Barrett’s presentation addressed introversion and how individuals across the personality spectrum can be successful leaders along with the importance of being more mindful of these differences.

“I developed this workshop … to combat the negative stigma that’s associated with introversion in the hopes that … we could recognize that there’s always a need for both [introverts and extroverts],” she said.